Malians Vote in Presidential Runoff

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Malians have voted in a presidential runoff election Sunday amid heavy security to thwart violence, deciding whether to hand incumbent Ibrahim Boubacar Keita a second five-year term or replace him with opposition challenger Soumalia Cisse.

Counting was underway in some of the 23,000 polling stations across the country after voting ended at 1800 UTC.

Keita, 73, took 42 percent of the vote in a field of 24 candidates in the first round of voting, compared to 18 percent for the 68-year-old Cisse, who also lost the 2013 election to Keita.

The earlier round of voting was marred by armed attacks blamed on jihadists, including some linked to al-Qaida and Islamic State, and ethnic violence that closed several hundred voting places.

The government stepped up security for Sunday's run-off, deploying 6,000 troops in addition to the 30,000 who already were on duty.

But despite the added security, a polling station president was killed in the northern Timbuktu region and the polling station there was burned, according to the Citizen Observation Pool of Mali which had more than 2,000 observers. The organization reported several incidents Sunday.

In north and central Mali more than 50 polling stations closed before noon because of the threats by extremists, the organization said.

Security services said Saturday they had disrupted a plot to to launch "targeted attacks" in the capital Bamako hours before voting started.

In the northern village of Kiname, one resident told Agence France-Presse that "armed men came and took all the voting material to the river bank and set it on fire."

The election observer West Africa Network for Peacebuilding said there was "no voting in Toguerekotia in the Sossobe district (of the central Mopti region) because of insecurity."

Keita voted in the capital, later telling cheering supporters, "I pledge that all the difficulties we faced are now behind us."

Cisse accused Keita's government of fraud in the first round of voting, but the constitutional court upheld the result.

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